There is a startling trend rising in NCAA Football. A trend that began as a small tremor, but surely and steadily has been picking up steam. This trend may very well become an earthquake by the end of 2008, and threatens to unravel all that the BCS has worked for. The little guy is here, and he wants to play ball.
For the past two years a non—BCS team has broken into a BCS bowl game, and after the 2007 Season of the Upset, there is more than enough reason to believe this is a trend that will not go away quietly.
So the big question is, who? The past two seasons saw WAC representatives Boise State and Hawaii in the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls respectively. Here is a conference breakdown of which teams are likely to be joining their BCS big brothers this season.
C—USA—Last season UCF won the conference behind the strong legs of running back Kevin Smith. Smith left early for the NFL and does not have a reliable replacement after Phillip Smith was dismissed from the team this training camp. Coupled with a tough out of conference schedule, it will be much tougher for UCF to have a repeat performance this season. Other options for C—USA include Tulsa and ECU. Tulsa seems the most likely choice due to a notable, though not overly difficult, schedule. Having been prolific behind the arm of Paul Smith last season Tulsa had the No. 1 offense last season. Paul Smith moved up to the NFL as well, but if the defense improves this offseason things could still be in Tulsa's favor. A win over Arkansas could produce the notoriety they will need to bust into the BCS.
MAC—Unfortunately not a lot of vigor in this conference, and an 0—3 bowl record last season wasn't a good showing. Central Michigan looks to be the strongest candidate in the conference, however their schedule could work against them when they face No. 1 ranked Georgia in early September. Exposure is good, but I think Georgia would be considered overexposure as that game will likely be far too much for the Chippewas.
MWC—Mountain West is quickly making waves this season, already with a team in the preseason rankings. BYU is the favorite right now, but this conference is packed with potential threats. UNLV, and TCU will also be playing tough ball this season. Even Utah will be getting in on the action, trying to be this season's Appalachian State in its season opener against Michigan. Out of conference play may be troubling for some of these teams, but expect to see BYU gunning for the big boys late in the year.
Sun Belt—Like the MAC the Sun Belt conference doesn't have a legitimate contender at this point, but there is reason to remain optimistic. Florida Atlantic provided one of the lesser known though certainly entertaining shows in a bowl game last season beating Memphis 44—27. Troy is a team on the verge of something great, however having to make major replacements at the quarterback and running back positions will make things more difficult on them this season.
WAC—The WAC produced the last two darlings of the BCS in Boise State and Hawaii. While Hawaii wont be as good this season as they were in 2007, there are still a few contenders from the WAC. Boise State will be looking to make a return appearance to the BCS but that road will go through Oregon. This game will be tough in Autzen, but still winnable. If Boise State can pull the upset there the BCS gods could have them playing in a major bowl game. Fresno State is the other team to watch here, though an early game against Missouri may prove too much for the Bulldogs.
Independants—Last we come to the Independants, or Notre Dame rather. Unfortunately for the Irish fans Notre Dame will not be strong enough to get back to the BCS this season. Last season was dismal, but the rebuilding appears to be going well this offseason. Notre Dame returns 16 starters this season, which is quite a solid base to work from. Expect a run in 2009, but don't get your hopes up this season.
So let's pick one team to break into the BCS this season. The Coaches' Poll has BYU as the favorite so far with their preseason rank of 17th. But, hey this wouldn't be any fun without an upset would it? I'll be brave and pick Tulsa for their schedule. Either way it goes though we know one thing, it will sure be a lot of fun to watch one of these teams riding that underdog mentality all the way into the BCS.